ST. CLOUD, Minn. (FOX 9) - Dan Abrego served in Korea during the Vietnam War, got out of the Army in 1972, and in the decades that followed, struggled with addiction that eventually led to homelessness.
"It took me 20 years to go to the VA, ask for help," Dan told FOX 9, "and they’re there to help you, just go and ask for help."
Dan said his reluctance was a fear about entering a system that would force him to live by someone else’s rules. It’s a fear he finds common among veterans who experience homelessness.
"A lot of us don’t want to talk about it, just want to be left alone."
But at a ceremony in St. Cloud to mark a major milestone in Minnesota’s drive to end homelessness among veterans, Dan did talk about it.
"I took off with the carnies and traveled with them for a while," he told the crowd, including Gov. Tim Walz. "And I just felt my life was no good. Haven’t told anybody this but, I did think about suicide."
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The ceremony declared that homelessness among veterans is now "effectively" ended in the central region of the state, which makes up 13 counties. It is the 7th of 10 Continuum of Care regions in Minnesota that has reached that goal.
"At least one veteran in Minnesota becomes homeless every day," remarked Larry Herke, Commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services. "On average, we have about 45 veterans each month that become homeless."
In 2014, Minnesota started an aggressive push to solve the crisis of veterans experiencing homelessness, building apartments and creating programs to connect the people to the places. It doesn’t mean there are no veterans who are homeless but does mean the resources are there to quickly match the need.
"It’s just that we can work faster, quicker, and within a short period of time, usually less than 90 days, be able to place that veteran in safe, secure housing," said Commissioner Herke.
84 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have reached the goal. Hennepin, Ramsey, and St. Louis Counties, home to the largest populations of veterans, still remain to find enough housing for their needs. If they do, Minnesota will be the fourth state in the country to say they’ve effectively ended homelessness among veterans.
Anyone who knows of a veteran experiencing homelessness can connect them with services by calling 1-888-LinkVet (546-5838) or visiting the MDVA website at MinnesotaVeteran.org/EndHomelessness.